At a glance:

  • 12.1-million-pixel sensor
  • 20x zoom (25-500mm equivalent)
  • Full HD (1080p) video recording
  • GPS
  • Street price around £330

With the summer holiday season fast approaching, Richard Sibley tests Canon’s latest travel compact camera that features a 20x optical zoom, full HD movies and GPS.

Launched earlier this year, the PowerShot SX260 HS is the latest travel zoom compact camera from Canon. The extreme focal lengths of these compact cameras make them an affordable alternative to a DSLR, and perfect for holidaymakers who don’t want to lug around a system camera on their travels.


Unlike the Canon PowerShot G12 and S100, which both use a large 1/1.7in (7.6×5.7mm) sensor, the SX260 HS uses a standard 1/2.3in (6.16×4.62mm) CMOS compact camera sensor. Sensibly, Canon has kept the resolution of the SX260 HS to 12.1 million pixels rather than opting to match the 14- and 16-million-pixel resolutions of some of its competitors.

The relatively small increase in resolution from 12 to 14 or 16 million pixels is one that shouldn’t be a deciding factor when making a purchase. In fact, the lower resolution may help to improve other factors, such as dynamic range.

The HS suffix stands for High Sensitivity, which means that the 12.1-million-pixel sensor is ‘backlit’, with the wiring of its circuit behind the light-receiving surface rather than in front of it. This allows more light to reach the photodiodes, which should in turn increase the dynamic range and sensitivity, thus improving the sensor’s performance in low light and reducing image noise.

The other part of the HS system involves the Digic 5 processor. This is Canon’s newest processing system, and it allows the very latest noise-reduction and image-processing techniques.

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS ZoomSmall compact camera sensors allow extremely long equivalent focal lengths to be achieved in small lenses. The PowerShot SX260 HS is no exception, with the 4.5-90mm lens acting as a 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) optic. Including a 20x optical zoom in such a compact camera is extremely impressive, and it should cover almost any situation in which a photographer might use a compact camera.

Image: With an impressive 20x optical zoom range, the SX260 HS is ideal for both wideangle and extreme telephoto images

The maximum aperture size of the lens is f/3.5 when the 25mm end is used, and f/6.8 at the 500mm telephoto focal length. This makes achieving a shallow depth of field with the SX260 HS difficult when shooting anything but macro images, and it may take a steady hand to take shots at 500mm in anything but bright sunlight. Thankfully, the lens is optically stabilised to help reduce camera shake and the camera has a tripod-mount socket.

Enthusiast photographers will be pleased to hear that there is a full complement of manual exposure modes available on the SX260 HS, although unlike the top-of-the-range PowerShot G-series models, this camera cannot save images as raw files.

Those photographers who prefer point-and-shoot photography will be impressed with the smart auto mode that can detect 58 different scenes. Plus, as would be expected from a compact camera, there is a variety of image styles and effects, including colour swap, miniature effect and soft focus.

The most useful extra feature has to be the built-in GPS tagging, which allows location data to be saved with images to help when cataloguing and organising them.

Build and handling

Unlike Canon’s PowerShot G12, the PowerShot SX260 HS is truly portable and will fit comfortably in a jacket or trouser pocket. The camera’s slightly curved front with smooth edges makes it comfortable to hold and carry, and the lens bevel at the front of the camera only adds a little to the camera’s depth.

Despite the minimalist design of the SX260 HS, there are enough buttons to make the camera fairly fast to use. Exposure modes can be changed easily via a dial on the back of the camera, while there is a control dial and directional buttons to make it simple to scroll through menus.

Exposure compensation can be quickly applied via a button on the back of the camera, and the function set button allows access to the various shooting and image settings. Anyone who has used a compact camera should quickly get to grips with the SX260 HS, as everything is logically placed.


In terms of detail and resolution, the PowerShot SX260 HS performs about as well as can be expected for a 12.1-million-pixel camera, reaching about 22 on our test chart. This is in line with other 12-million-pixel sensors we have tested, including those found in DSLRs.

While detail gradually reduces as the sensitivity setting increases, reaching around 16 by ISO 3200, this is still respectable for a compact camera at this sensitivity.

There is a subtle hint of luminance and chroma noise at the lowest sensitivities, although this is only really noticeable in shadow areas and when the images are adjusted post-capture. It is at around ISO 800 where luminance noise becomes more noticeable, and it can be seen in all but the brightest highlights. There is also a hint of some coloured chroma noise, although it is reasonably well controlled.

At the very highest sensitivity settings noise is well controlled, but there are obvious signs of noise reduction as images look smudged in areas of texture. Colour noise is also present, particularly in shadow areas. Generally, I would recommend sticking to the ISO 100-800 range, with the maximum ISO 3200 used only as a last resort.

Image: Colours look great straight from the SX260 HS, with just a slight increase in contrast added to the image

Colour and contrast are very good, with the usual plethora of Canon’s My Colors settings. For the most part, these can be left to the default ‘off’ setting, although for particularly punchy or subtle colours and contrast, the respective vivid and natural settings look particularly pleasing.

Focusing is quick and snappy, with a minimum focus distance of around 2cm from the end of the lens when in macro focus mode. Manual focus is also an option, although it is slow to use and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Having a 25-500mm lens is ideal for a travel compact camera, as this range covers almost everything you could wish to shoot. It takes just under 2secs to zoom through the entire focal range, which is fairly impressive. At the 500mm equivalent setting, the optical lens stabilisation helps to reduce camera shake by turning any twitchy movements into smooth, fluid shifts.

The stabilisation is also great when using the SX260 HS in its full HD (1080p) video-capture mode. Video is recorded using H.264 codec, with stereo sound, and is saved in the widely used .MOV file format, making it easy to find software packages to both edit and view captured video footage.

The GPS facility is useful for arranging images quickly by location. Most image-cataloguing software now has the facility to use this GPS data, but if a particular software program doesn’t, then the supplied Canon program can help. The software can also track the photographer’s route if the GPS logger facility is turned on in-camera. However, I would recommend that GPS is used only when needed, such as when photographing more remote places, because it can drain the battery when left on.

Resolution and noise

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS resolution and noise

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to its 100mm point.

We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Our verdict

Despite fierce competition, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is one of the best travel zoom cameras on the market. Although the resolution may not quite match either the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 or the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, those thinking of purchasing the camera shouldn’t be put off. The image quality is more than a match for both these higher resolution models.

The evaluative metering system and range of scene modes make it easy for point-and-shoot photographers to get great images, while the more advanced user will enjoy the range of manual exposure modes. Add the HD video capture and GPS tagging, and the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS becomes an ideal travel companion.